Liver Cirrhosis and Acupuncture Treatment

The condition in which scar (fibrous) develops in the liver is known as Liver Cirrhosis or just Cirrhosis. This is the end result of long-term injury due to both excessive alcohol intake as well as non-alcoholic causes.

The liver’s destruction as well as the death of liver cells obviously impairs the normal function of the liver. This organ plays a major role in the digestion of food and is also responsible for blood storage including its assistance in blood clotting, creating proteins, and metabolizing drugs.

Liver cirrhosis is a very serious condition. Only about a third of sufferers survive it five years after being diagnosed with the disease. If the cirrhosis is alcohol-related and the patient still persists in drinking the outlook is even grimmer.

What causes Liver Cirrhosis?

1. Too much alcohol drinking – The number of cases of cirrhosis in a country is directly connected to that country’s average alcohol consumption. About 50% of all cirrhosis cases are the result of excess alcohol intake.

2. Primary biliary cirrhosis – This condition primarily affects women. It is a rare disease, however and is not related to alcohol drinking. In primary biliary cirrhosis, the body starts to attack the person’s liver for some unknown reason.

3. Chronic viral hepatitis – The viruses that are known to cause liver cirrhosis are the Hepatitis B and C viruses. In Asia and Africa, the hepatitis B virus is the one that commonly brings on cirrhosis while in the US and Europe, it is hepatitis C. hepatitis A is not known to cause cirrhosis.

4. Inherited and metabolic disorders – These not so common conditions can cause the build-up of toxins in the liver. Hemochromatosis is the most common and it is due to having too much iron deposits in the liver.

5. Chemicals and drugs – A lot of chemicals and drugs can cause damage to the liver but only a few can cause cirrhosis.

6. Autoimmune chronic active hepatitis – This is also a rare disease that can cause the immune system to attack and kill liver cells.

Acupuncture’s Viewpoint on Liver Cirrhosis:

According to acupuncture theory, Liver Cirrhosis is deemed to be mainly brought on by chronic Liver Yin stagnation. Accumulation of certain fluids such as bile in the Liver along with Liver Yin stagnation can result in too much fat deposit in the Liver that can lead to Fatty Liver. Fatty Liver, in turn, can lead to Liver Yang excess producing too much heat in the Liver. When there is excess heat in the Liver, it completely dries out all the tissues and the cells in the liver. The tissues and cells collapse and spindle like a thin fiber around the liver causing liver fibrosis. Damaged connective tissues develop instead of healthy ones due to the liver fibrosis and they cause the Liver to shrink and malfunction finally resulting in Cirrhosis of the Liver.

Liver Cirrhosis Symptoms

The extent of damage that has occurred in the liver will determine what symptoms will manifest. During the initial stages of Liver Cirrhosis, no symptoms may develop and the condition may be discovered from examination of another illness.

As the cirrhosis progresses, the symptoms of weight loss, nausea, a weak appetite, lack of energy, weakness, and tiredness may arise.

At the advanced stages, the liver struggles to perform its functions and symptoms such as the following may be experienced:

Nail changes: The appearance and shape of the nails may change. The nails may look more pinkish than white and clubbing (curved nails) may develop.

Jaundice: In this condition, the eyes and the skin turn yellowish as a result of the liver’s incapacity to expel bilirubin from the blood.

Ascites or Edema (fluid retention): During certain stages of cirrhosis, this is a common symptom. One of the vital functions of the liver is remove excess fluid from the body via the kidneys. When the liver cannot perform this function, fluid wells up in the stomach (ascites) or in the legs (edema).

Abnormal blood vessels: A blood vessel condition known as the spider nevus, which is a spot surrounded by fine blood vessels is a very common abnormality. A red face also commonly occurs.

Skin changes: Darkening of the skin occurs in about 25 percent of patients.

Enlarged breasts in men (Gynecomastia): In cirrhosis, the female sex hormones in men proliferate as the liver is incapable of destroying them as it normally does when it is healthy and functioning well. This causes the breast enlargement in men as well as shrinkage of their testes.

Easy bruising: Because the liver is unable to produce enough clotting proteins, it can lead to delayed clotting and abnormal blood vessels and as a result, to easy bruising and nosebleeds.

Serious complications may happen during the disease’s very late stages. They can involve vomiting of blood, either from leaking varicose veins in the lower end of the esophagus or from stomach ulcers.

It is the duty of the liver to rid the blood of toxic substances. But, when cirrhosis occurs, the blood may skip the liver allowing the toxins to enter the brain where they can wreak havoc in its function causing drowsiness, confusion, and finally, coma. This is known as hepatic encephalopathy.

Usually, there are stages to the development of Liver Cirrhosis. They include:

1. The pre-ascites stage: Most of the symptoms at this stage are related to the digestive system. They include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, poor appetite, etc.; hepatomegaly is the main sign.

2. The ascites stage: Symptoms include breathlessness, palpitations, poor appetite, and stomach fullness and distention, especially after meals.

3. The Cachexia stage: Hepatic coma may occur.

Modes of Treatment

Acupuncture usually combined with moxibustion.


The main acupoints are classified into two groups:
Group 1: St 36, UB 18, and Ren 96
Group 2: Sp 6, Liv 13, and UB 20

Procedure: Both main groups of acupoints are alternately utilized with 10 treatments of each group. The related acupoints are used based on the clinical signs and symptoms and the course is 10 treatments with an interval of three to five days between two adjacent courses.

For other Liver Cirrhosis-related symptoms, the acupuncture points used will include:

St 21 and Ren 12 – For stomach fullness and distention
UB 25 and St 25 – For diarrhea
Ren 3 – Weak urination
GB 34 – Pain of hypochondrium
Ren 17 and P 6 – Dyspnea and palpitations


Acupoints: Sp-15, Ren 4, Ren 12, and Ren-8.

Method: Request the patient to lie on his/her back. Apply moxibustion for an hour to the areas Ren 12 to Ren 4 and the areas from Sp 15 (left side) to (right side) Sp-15 with a moxa-cone moving from left to right side and using Ren-8 as the center. This type of treatment is done in 10 sessions once each day, with an interval of 3 to 5 days between two adjacent courses.